How Joseph Olowu stayed on the right path in journey that led to Doncaster Rovers

With a new deal signed, the future is looking bright for Joseph Olowu.

Sunday, 5th December 2021, 4:00 pm
Joseph Olowu

The young defender has made a strong early impression at Doncaster Rovers in September and clearly has the potential for a notable career in the senior ranks.

But getting to this point has been a long journey not without peril for the 22-year-old.

And he is frank in admitting that he could so easily have gone down the wrong path in his childhood.

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“I grew in Bermondsey in South London,” he told the Free Press.

“Bermondsey is not the most aggressive area but it’s not the poshest either.

“It’s very easy to get drawn into outside influences - coming back from school and hanging out at the bus stop for maybe an extra 45 minutes and saying the bus was late. Those little things can easily draw you in to getting sucked into the wrong crowd.

“It was very overwhelming for me at a young age with people running around doing X, Y and Z.

“I tried to stay away from it as much as I could and I always tried to be home for 4 or 4.30.

“Kids now don’t really get it but not everyone has a Playstation so in the summer when the weather is nice and the sun doesn’t go down until nine at night, we’d be out playing football from around 12 until dark, or having water fights.

“We didn’t have phones so we wouldn’t be able to ring each other up and say met at the park. I’d just have to stick my head out of the door and listen out for the ball getting smashed around against the fence or the little cage where we played our football.

“I just loved playing football.”

The efforts of his mental health nurse mum and refrigeration engineer dad were key in keeping the young Olowu on the right path - one that would ultimately lead to academy football.

“My mum got me my first kit, a Manchester United one, the red and black one with the white corners when Ruud van Nistelrooy was about to leave,” he said.

“It was about just wanting to play football and not getting involved with the wrong people.

“Both my parents, my mum and dad, pushed that massively.

“My mum would get me trainers or a new kit just to distract me away from getting involved with the wrong crowd.

“As much as I had my mates who potentially went the wrong way, I had my parents keeping me focused on just playing football. It was about doing my school work and playing football.

“Early on, every summer, my dad would pay for a summer school at Millwall, at The Den, so that was my first introduction to playing properly with other people.

“It was a goalkeeping masterclass that I did in my first week. I didn’t enjoy it, I’ve got to be honest. It wasn’t fun at all and I quickly found out that I didn’t want to be a goalkeeper.

“The next one, I definitely went in as an outfield player and it progressed from there.

“They were massive.

“The household is very faith based and we’d go to church every Sunday. When I was young, on a Friday after training I might go to choir practice and be singing or playing drums. Or on a Tuesday there’d be an evening service.

“My parents were very big on me growing up in Christianity.

“They were putting a lot of effort in and I’m very grateful for them keeping me on the right path. They taught me lessons that I can take through life and pass onto other people, when I have a family of my own.”

A former choirboy? So how is Olowu’s voice now?

“My initiation song when I joined Rovers went down quite well I’d like to say,” he said with a laugh. “I wouldn’t go as far as Adele or Ed Sheeran but I feel like I can hold a tune.

“I did Just A Friend by Mario. I went for it. Go hard or go home.”

Away from church, Olowu suffered a familiar story of rejection when it came time to take his potential on the park into club football.

But he believes the early setbacks were hugely important in preparing him for more knocks later in his life.

“I had a six week trial with Millwall when I was eight or nine. I was told that they didn’t think I was ready or good enough.

“At a young age it’s a hit to take but having that lesson then built my resilience.

“I was playing Sunday league football, then I had trials at Charlton, Tottenham, Chelsea development and then back at Charlton.

“It was in a game while on trial with Charlton against Arsenal and that’s how they spotted me.

“They asked me to come in and the rest is history.”

Signing as a 13-year-old, Olowu needed to navigate mixing school life in south London with training with a club in the north of the capital - and it was not a simple task.

“It was a lot,” he said.

“I’d have to get a note to head off before school finished and then I’d have to run for a bus and a train. It was a specific train I had to get, and at rush hour too, so I was piling on the train with my school bag, an extra bag, my lunchbox and loads of people coming out of work.

“I was sweating every time but it was good discipline.

“I didn’t need a warm-up before the training session at all.”

Club Doncaster Foundation recently announced a new scheme where coaching sessions will be held in some of the borough’s most deprived areas.

And having experienced the power of the game in his own life, Olowu believes the programme has the potential to provide similar influence on young people in Doncaster.

“It’s massive,” he said.

“I’ve seen Louis Jones going down to the goalkeeping session and to see what it means to have a professional footballer working with them is priceless.

“As much as we’re professional footballers, I think we can sometimes underestimate the impact we can have on young people.

“The Foundation going in, and players making the appearances, can be massive in giving some of these kids hope. And a kind word goes a long way too.”

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In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Liam Hoden, editor.